The Transportation Security Administration will begin using a recently unclassified remote sensor to scan rail and cruise line passengers as they walk by for explosives and other weapons, said an agency official.
Passive millimeter wave detectors are designed to peer under clothing to see guns, knives, ceramics and bombs. The system can be used covertly or overtly, according to its manufacturer, QinetiQ.
TSA sees the sensors as a solution to ferreting out possible terrorists seeking to infiltrate subway or commuter train stations. Because of the high volume of foot traffic and numerous entryways, such environments cannot accommodate individual searches similar to those carried out at airports.
The systems will first be tested on cruise line passengers at an as yet unspecified location in the Northeast, Bob Pryor, domain manager for surface transportation at TSA, said at a railway security conference.
The tests will be expanded to four sites at rail or subway stations on the east and west coasts.
“It’s harder to find threats in mass transit because it’s more open,” Pryor said. “You’re dealing with dynamic situations because you don’t have nearly as much control of the traveling public in those environments.”
Pryor said remote sensors that scan passengers as they walk by are the “wave of the future.” They can be fused with closed-circuit televisions, which are widely accepted by the public.
“A passenger need never know that they are being scanned,” a QinetiQ fact sheet said.
The plan is certain to raise privacy issues. However, there will be a public information campaign to tell passengers about the tests, Pryor said.
Pryor quoted DHS Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley as saying the agency “will never go very far wrong as long as we keep the public informed as to what we’re doing.”
Passive millimeter wave detectors pick up radiation reflected off the body and can highlight concealed metal and non-metal objects.
It’s yet another application for the rapidly growing field of millimeter wave technology. The millimeter wave band lies in the electromagnetic spectrum between microwave and infrared. The technology has been around for decades, but was considered prohibitively expensive. Costs are decreasing, and labs are developing numerous applications for the military and homeland security markets.
Active millimeter wave sensors, which resemble the walk-through metal detectors found at airports, have also been tested, said Doug Bauer, a program manager at the Department of Homeland Security science and technology directorate.
L-3 Communications security and detection systems division is marketing a walk-through portal.
Active millimeter wave devices can be weaponized. The Air Force has developed a non-lethal weapon designed for use in crowd and perimeter control. The Department of Energy is also considering their use to protect nuclear facilities.
Small boats and icebergs. As if the Coast Guard didn’t have enough missions on its plate, these are two threats the service must keep its eye on, Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, said in a speech delivered shortly before the service released the Coast Guard maritime strategy on security, safety and stewardship.
Allen echoed what others in the maritime defense community have been saying during the past months. Small boats — defined as 300 gross tons and below — may pose a greater threat to port security than the “nuke in a container scenario.”
“All of our threat and vulnerability assessments for the major ports around this country tell us that while containers are important, we may be thinking too container-centric since the events of 9/11, and the notion of a water-borne improvised explosive device needs to be dealt with,” Allen said at a Surface Navy Association conference.
And while the White House has cast doubts on the prospects of global warming, Allen suggested that it’s here, and the melting of the polar ice caps, along with large chucks of ice floating in the ocean, will be an emerging concern.
The maritime strategy document outlined six strategic priorities including: strengthening international agreements that regulate international waters; inter-agency cooperation; integrating Coast Guard capabilities into national defense planning; renewing its focus on recovery efforts in the aftermaths of disasters; and fostering international partnerships.
Allen, as is the habit with senior Department of Homeland Security officials lately, delivered his entire speech without mentioning the most controversial topic of the day. In the Coast Guards’ case, that’s the Deepwater Integrated program, a 25-year, multi-billion dollar effort to upgrade its platforms and communications network.
Only questions from the audience coaxed him to comment on the troubled program’s woes, which stem from a lack of contractor oversight.
He acknowledged that the service did not have enough experience in overseeing such a complex acquisition program. Organizational changes were being considered including the creation of the new position, a deputy commandant for mission support, who would be in charge of acquisition.
“I’m the commandant of the Coast Guard. I’m responsible. I’m accountable. I will [fix] this,” he vowed.
Border Patrol recruiters have a tough job ahead of them. The goal spelled out by President Bush is to double their ranks by the end of 2008. That means filling 6,000 new slots if Congress comes through with the funding.
Francisco Lopez Jr., assistant chief of the Border Patrol for recruitment, said roughly 1,300 positions had been filled by the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2007. And they have more than 15,000 applications to wade through. That may sound like a lot, but only one in 25 completes the process, he told National Defense.
A second presidential initiative, the deployment of National Guard personnel to shore up the border, may end up being a recruiting boon, he said.
“National Guard personnel are excellent candidates,” Lopez said. “You can’t talk about recruitment without talking about retention.” Guard members serving on the borders have had an up-close look at how the agency operates as well as a chance to know the regions and cultures. That familiarity gives them a leg up on recruits who may experience culture shock.
Customs and Border Protection’s National Recruitment Center is spearheading the efforts. One of its goals is to reach out to states and communities where the Border Patrol is not well known. Fifty full-time national recruiters are taking on the task in areas such as the Midwest. Two hundred agents can also be called on to help recruit in addition to their regular duties.
They are finding a competitive market. The Border Patrol must vie for the same pool of candidates as the military, and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
The agency raised its maximum age for new recruits from 37 to 40. The idea was to increase the patrol’s chances of hiring recently retired military personnel, who may have enlisted at age 18 and retired at the 20-year mark.
The Department of Homeland Security, with the help of its private sector and federal agency partners, met its year-end deadline to pull together 17 plans to guard resources vital to the nation’s security and economy, according to a senior DHS official.
DHS delivered the National Infrastructure Protection Plan last summer, two and a half years after a presidential directive called for the department to formulate a strategy to clearly define the responsibilities for federal, state, local governments and the private sector in protecting critical infrastructure and key resources.
After finally delivering the plan, DHS gave representatives of the industries and federal agencies only six months to come up with sector specific plans.
Those were completed, as promised, at the end of December, said Robert Stephan, DHS assistant secretary for infrastructure protection.
“We have very good, tight organizational networks now,” he said at a Surface Navy Association conference.
The 17 sectors included such categories as agriculture and food, defense industrial base, public health, banking and finance, transportation, energy and water. Different federal agencies represented the government depending on the sector. For example, the Department of Agriculture represented food and the Environmental Protection Agency led the water efforts.
“We have to bring players onto the field in an organized way,” Stephan said.
The sector specific plans addressed how to share information inside the sector, how to carry out risk analysis in a uniform way, how to govern themselves and protocols to follow in times of emergency.
“Those are being fed by increasingly robust information sharing mechanisms,” he added.
A proposed three-year deadline to physically inspect every piece of cargo loaded aboard airliners is impossible, the head of the Transportation Security Administration told senators.
“Any mandate to physically inspect 100 percent of air cargo within three years is not feasible without impeding the legitimate flow of commerce and imposing an unreasonable cost on the government,” DHS Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Legislation requiring that all cargo be screened is expected to wind its way through Congress this year. Lawmakers have asked why cargo loaded aboard airliners doesn’t undergo the same scrutiny as checked bags and passengers.
Transportation security is high on the now Democratic-controlled committee’s priority list. Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, called Hawley to Capitol Hill for its first hearing of the new session. A surface transportation security hearing followed the next day.
“The TSA must work with Congress to make certain extensive [air cargo] screening becomes a reality in the near term,” Inouye said.
TSA is working out final rules for determining what will be screened, Hawley said. One hundred percent of high-risk cargo is being screened, he asserted. The goal will be to “enhance security without unduly disrupting the flow of commerce.”
On the passenger screening side, TSA in 2006 spent $534 million to buy and develop explosives detection technology. The agency is also reinforcing its improvised explosive device training it first began in fall 2005. More than 38,000 transportation security officers have completed this training, Hawley said.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., had several beefs with Hawley. Among them was the requirement to remove shoes before screening.
TSA enlisted two contractors to test backscatter x-ray technology that could eliminate the need to separately screen shoes, but Hawley cautioned the committee that the system’s cost could be a major deterrent.
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